Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the situation in Zimbabwe; and what plans they have to work internationally to facilitate the recovery of that country.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate recent dramatic events in Zimbabwe. I look forward to hearing the views of other noble Lords, not least those of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who served with distinction as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am grateful to the Minister for answering this debate.
No one who observed the events leading up to the resignation of President Mugabe and the swearing-in of President Mnangagwa could fail to be deeply moved by the peaceful, restrained, cheerful and tolerant way in which Zimbabweans reacted to the army intervention and by their desire to see a peaceful change of presidency. They have set a wonderful example to other countries, but now their expressions of hope for the future present a challenge to the new Government because, sadly for Zimbabweans, over 37 years of rule Mr Mugabe increasingly demonstrated Lord Acton’s famous saying that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The effect on the people of Zimbabwe has been disastrous. That exercise of power, corruption and violence has reduced a country rich in natural resources to poverty and devastation.
It is important to refer briefly to the past before looking to the future. I was Minister for Africa in the Thatcher Government formed in 1979. By that stage, the country had faced a devastating civil war with more than 25,000 people, black and white, having lost their lives. It followed the unilateral declaration of independence led by Ian Smith, who had refused to contemplate African-majority rule in his lifetime. By 1979, the country was exhausted by conflict. The international community looked to the UK to assert authority, end the war and negotiate majority rule and independence for the country.
The Lancaster House conference, under the outstanding leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, led to an agreed constitution and broadly free and fair elections in 1980. Mr Mugabe became Prime Minister with a clear majority. He started with the good will and support of Britain and the international community. We had created conditions which seemed to offer the people of Zimbabwe an opportunity to achieve peace and prosperity.
Now, after 37 years as Prime Minister and later President, Mr Mugabe has left a country devastated by violent and despotic rule. His actions ranged from the massacre of 20,000 Ndebele in the 1980s, the looting of mineral and other resources, and the rigging of elections, to confiscation without compensation of 4,000 farmers’ land, destroying the lives of thousands of farm workers. All this has reduced a once relatively wealthy country to conditions of extreme poverty, hyperinflation and unemployment.
Today, according to the World Bank, 63% of households are below the poverty level of $2.50 a day; 25% of children are orphans; 33% of women have experienced sexual violence; growth is only 0.7%; and unemployment is over 80%. Moreover, some 3 million to 5 million Zimbabweans have emigrated, mainly to South Africa, but with some 113,000 in the United Kingdom. Despite all this, there are still 20,000 British nationals in Zimbabwe, ready to play an active part in its recovery. The country is burdened with $9 billion of debt, the infrastructure has been ruined and, above all, agricultural production, in a country once described as the bread-basket of Africa, has collapsed.
Zimbabwe is now at a critical turning point. The people are hoping for a better future, bringing jobs, prosperity and democratic participation. What are the prospects? I look forward to hearing the Government’s assessment and views about what tangible indications of progress will enable us to work with the African Union, South Africa, China, the US, the EU, multilateral bodies such the IMF, and others in response to any appeals for help and support. The record of the new President and his colleagues is not encouraging. Is the ZANU-PF elite likely to share power? I suppose the inevitable question is, “If the so-called crocodile were to be a leopard, would he change his spots?”.
Africa is capable of producing great leaders. Look at the contrast between Mandela and Mugabe. Mandela had powers of leadership, inspiration and forgiveness which set an example to the whole world. The African continent has a dramatically expanding population and an encouraging overall record of economic growth this century. The sub-Saharan continent has seen annual economic growth of 5.4% between 2000 and 2010, and over 3% since then.
Zimbabwe’s neighbour Botswana is a good example of a peaceful democratic country. Given leadership, time and a clear plan of reconstruction, Zimbabwe can be the same, but only if the President and Government can rise to the opportunity by taking courageous measures of political and economic reform. Can the Government tell us what they consider the key decisions are that Zimbabwe needs to take to fulfil the people’s hopes and enable the international community to help them? It is a good starting point for Britain that DfID has consistently provided humanitarian aid to the people over recent years. What measures are now needed to restart the economy and restore confidence in the future?
It would have helped if Zimbabwe had started with a transitional Government of national unity. Instead they have a cabinet of the ZANU-PF elite, with army chiefs in key positions. But the President, at his inauguration, said:
“We want to grow our economy, we want peace, we want jobs”.
He also said that he wants prosperity and democracy. International bodies and the community will be looking for the restoration of the rule of law, an independent judiciary, land reform and respect for property rights. The Government will need to repeal the law which discourages foreign investment. Measures for economic reform are essential. But there will be no longer-term improvement unless plans are also made to restore the integrity of the electoral system, preventing vote-rigging and ensuring participatory democracy, which includes free and fair elections.
Reconstruction will take a long time but the international community, with Britain playing a constructive role, must establish the benchmarks for these reforms and a consistent plan of action before it can step in to help. If the Zimbabweans of the diaspora, with all their acquired skills, begin to return to Zimbabwe, a positive signal will be given to the world.
I am glad that the Commonwealth has already indicated that Zimbabwe will be welcomed back after 15 years of absence, provided it applies to join and demonstrates in due course its commitment to the principles of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Local Government Forum still maintains a useful link with Zimbabwe by working for participatory democracy at both the urban and rural levels. The new Government of Zimbabwe should be reminded that in 1991 the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was held in Harare, at which all members, including Zimbabwe, recommitted themselves to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, a free press and freedom of speech. Now it needs only to abide by the Harare declaration to be welcomed back into the Commonwealth. Do the Government support Commonwealth ambitions to welcome Zimbabwe back into the association once the criteria are satisfied?
Zimbabweans live in hope of a better life. Can the international community, led by the African Union and South Africa, persuade the new Government that they have an opportunity to save their country and to set it on a new path? To achieve that, the Zimbabwe Government have to show that they put their people’s interest above everything else. It will be a long process of reconciliation and building of trust.
The people of Zimbabwe face a long haul. They are looking for a Government who will need the courage to dismantle the corrupt power of the elite of ZANU-PF and to move in stages towards appropriate systems of democracy and the rule of law. The diaspora, with its new skills, will be ready to return if encouraged by reforms. The international community, with Britain playing a constructive role, stands ready to help. But the will has to come from the Government and people of Zimbabwe. These long-suffering people deserve a better future. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, Zimbabwe is a country where the majority of people are in severe poverty but where the leaders have revelled in their own personal wealth. There is a new President, so what happens next?
The UK is strategically placed on the international stage to accelerate its work at the United Nations, with the African Union and like-minded countries, to help Zimbabwe develop the essential foundations of development and prosperity. Those foundations are respect for human rights and the rule of law. Evidence shows that countries which respect them tend to be more prosperous, democratic and stable. Corruption is less likely to take root.
As this short debate falls within the 16 Days of Activism to eradicate violence against women and girls, I particularly congratulate our embassy in Harare for the work it has already done in facilitating action against gender-based violence and in support of women’s empowerment. But we could do more to give it the opportunity to translate objectives into reality as it works with the Government of Zimbabwe.
Despite the provisions of the 2013 constitution, violence against women and girls remains widespread, and perpetrators continue to benefit from impunity. Victims of rape rarely report it, due to stigma, societal attitudes, and corruption in law enforcement and the judiciary. Police sometimes have not acted on reported rape cases if the perpetrators were aligned with ZANU-PF or if the rape was used as a political tool against non-ZANU-PF members.
Where the Zimbabwe Government have done so little to help victims, we have stepped in. We have already worked alongside Sweden, for example, to provide support for medical, legal and psychosocial services to survivors at Gwanda hospital in Matabeleland South province. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how we will do so much more to use our Engaging Africa policy to enable Zimbabwe to build a prosperous future in the interests of all its people.
My Lords, in my two minutes I shall make two points. Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe declined from bread-basket to basket case. It is mired in the corruption and cronyism that have led to national bankruptcy—and it need not have been. As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, south of the Limpopo is South Africa, where President Mandela’s national reconciliation gave a very different model. I visited Zimbabwe regularly in the 1980s and saw the apparent prosperity. I confess to having been rather starry-eyed about Mugabe. But I was in good company; so were the international community, the IFIs and even white farmers, who were ready to give him the benefit of the doubt in spite of the Matabeleland massacres. Democracies decline gradually but, as we have seen in Zimbabwe, dictatorships end in apoplectic fits.
Secondly, given that we all want Zimbabwe to move towards a prosperous democracy, how should we now respond? Cynics will no doubt say that the crocodile cannot change its scales and that people who are now ringing the bells will soon be wringing their hands. It is true that the President arrives with much negative baggage, and we should respond with caution and conditionality. Next year’s elections are vital. Private investors will be wary but the IMF, the World Bank, the EU, the Commonwealth, China and South Africa—remembering that the Zulus are cousins of the Ndebele—should be ready to help.
We must proceed with hope. Much is positive. The infrastructure and tourist potential are good, and there is much good will to the UK. My final question is: how do we encourage the many talented Zimbabweans of the diaspora to return and help rebuild their country? Many of course will have built new lives for themselves and their families outside Zimbabwe, including in the UK. What incentives and guarantees, including possibly subsidising their salaries, can we provide? The diaspora can make a major contribution to the new Zimbabwe.
My Lords, there is no doubt that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has a monumental task to dig his country out of the economic hole into which it fell during the 37 years that it was led by Robert Mugabe. With unemployment at over 80%, there are high expectations that Mnangagwa can deliver a new vision. Just this afternoon, the Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, delivered a progressive, thoughtful and encouraging budget. Clearly, job creation and agricultural reform are going to be high on the economic agenda, but restoring confidence has to be the key objective to attract investment—not just international investment but, most importantly, the confidence of the Zimbabwean people so that they can be encouraged to invest in rebuilding their country. Zimbabweans are talented and industrious people, and they must take the lead.
Zimbabwe’s GDP per capita is approximately $1,000, compared to $6,000 in Botswana. Some economists believe that Zimbabwe should adopt the Singapore model that was successfully implemented by its first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. By doing so, Zimbabwe could transform itself and catch Botswana up in just 16 years. The country needs not just economic support but technical support in justice, health, education, police and other services. Restoring trust after so many years of repression will be a massive challenge, and I welcome the appointment of the special adviser to the President on issues of national healing and reconciliation, similar to what President Nelson Mandela did in South Africa. Finally, I hope that this new chapter in Zimbabwe will herald the country rejoining the Commonwealth.
My Lords, I have come to your Lordships’ House today from Lambeth Palace, where I have been chairing the Zimbabwe round table. Also present at that meeting was the Bishop of Harare, the right reverend Dr Chad Gandiya, who is staying with me on his brief visit to this country. Yesterday Bishop Chad met with Rory Stewart, the Africa Minister. My conversations with Bishop Chad have further informed my own thinking on Zimbabwe—a country with which I have a long association, particularly through close links between my diocese and four of the five Anglican dioceses in Zimbabwe.
I shall set out two priorities that I hope will be borne in mind by Her Majesty’s Government in approaching the situation in Zimbabwe, and I am encouraged that the Prime Minister has described this nation as Zimbabwe’s oldest friend. The first is the need for vigilance. It remains to be seen whether the recent events, though thankfully peaceful, are a change for the country as a whole or simply an internal reordering of ZANU-PF. Whether the army will intervene again is also unknown. Zimbabwe is still in transition. In this connection, I shall quote the wise words of another Zimbabwean bishop, the Bishop of Matabeleland, the right reverend Cleophas Lunga, who wrote to me last month:
“I believe that inadequate transitions create reoccurrences of conflicts and reconciliation becomes elusive”.
Reconciliation and accountability are therefore both needed now in equal and urgent measure to encourage governance that is focused on serving the people rather than self-serving.
Secondly, I wish to highlight the constructive role that the churches in Zimbabwe have played and will continue to play—in particular the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has both a national reach and a rich network of local relationships. It has implemented successful development programmes and will continue to do so. It is also well connected with the wider Anglican Communion, particularly in this country. It is and will continue to be an effective partner for all who wish to see Zimbabwe flourish, with justice and freedom for all. We must use well this opportunity to help Zimbabwe to achieve the better tomorrow that has been so long and forbearingly awaited.
My Lords, the change of regime is an opportunity for the lives of Zimbabweans, in Zimbabwe and in exile, to be transformed. The British Government can help with governance reform, with our Chinese friends and others. There is no greater opportunity than now to revive trade and investment opportunities, and to that end our voice in the International Monetary Fund will be very important. I share the view that Zimbabwe’s readmission to the Commonwealth is desirable and I hope that the necessary conditions and processes can be achieved.
Finally, I hope that the change of regime may help the process of resolving the problem of the pensions owed to former Crown servants who responded to the British Government’s request to stay at their post at the time of UDI, which they did, and at the time of the Lancaster House conference, which they did. As we have already discussed in and debated in this House, not least thanks to the late Lord Waddington, the pensioners have not been paid. They are grateful to Rory Stewart, the Minister for Africa, and his predecessors, particularly my noble friend Lady Anelay, for their attention to this issue, and to the officials in the Foreign Office and DfID for their commitment to finding a solution to this very difficult problem. Sir Nicholas Soames has tabled Early Day Motions in the Commons on this subject and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, a former vice-president of the now dissolved Overseas Service Pensioners’ Association, has worked to resolve the matter. I hope that the new arrangements will allow a just solution to be achieved.
My Lords, notwithstanding what has gone on in the past, I welcome the new Prime Minister’s words on creating a democratic society that will seek to solve the difficult problems in the country. While I understand that the British Government will not interfere in the affairs of Zimbabwe, but stand ready to assist the country and its people if the promises made come to fruition, it is imperative that safeguards are in place to help the many women and girls living in Zimbabwe. With an estimated population of just over 51% female, their voices need to be heard at this time of upheaval and change. More importantly, preparations need to include women and girls in any new progress towards a better-run country run for the benefit of all its citizens, whatever their gender.
The Human Rights Watch World Report 2017 found routine human rights abuses against women, girls and widows where,
“widows are routinely evicted from their marital homes and their property confiscated with little recourse to the formal justice system”.
At this moment, with the ruling party in power and even some military personnel given positions in the newly formed Government of Zimbabwe, what is the next move for the UK Government? What safeguards are in place and what may DfID do to help the women and girls of Zimbabwe who—like many women and girls, including widows, in many other countries—shoulder many of the injustices and hardships that a regime such as the previous Administration impose on their people?
My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said in his opening remarks, which were an elegant and eloquent analysis of the problems faced by Zimbabwe and the international community in its efforts to offer assistance. He used the phrase “move in stages”, and I think that is what we have to bear in mind. Many people would like fast changes in all sorts of different directions. It will not happen in that form. We must recognise that we will move in stages to help a country and population in dire need of assistance.
The first stage that the international community should give serious consideration to is the question of international debt, so that the moment that the international community is asked, it can step forward to help financially. Many people, organisations and companies will offer their assistance from outside Zimbabwe. We have to listen to and recognise the needs of the local population. That should be our priority case—recognising that there will be all sorts of offers—because they are the people who have suffered for so long. One thing that has already been identified is finding ways to bring the diaspora back to Zimbabwe, because they have abilities which could and should be used.
Another criterion, as well as helping the population of the country above proffers of assistance from all sorts of people from outside, is that any assistance should be judged on the basis on which it brings the Ndebele and the Shona together. That is key, because it will develop the country more effectively.
We all in this Chamber wish Zimbabwe well and hope to see it change and, as an international community, we should offer assistance, not impose it.
My Lords, the number of speakers in this debate demonstrates clearly the seriousness with which this House takes events in Zimbabwe and how much it cares about the people of Zimbabwe. I hope that whoever organises government business will take note of this and that, soon after the Christmas Recess, we can have a proper, full debate on this issue, of which there are many facets.
Once it became clear that President Mugabe was standing down, euphoria spread throughout the country. I am by nature a political optimist, but in this case I remain a political pessimist. Nothing which has happened changes my mind. No effort has been made to try to recover some of the millions looted by Mugabe and his cohorts, there is nothing to show that the Government have changed. There was heady talk at one stage of a Government of national unity with ZANU and ZAPU working together. It simply has not happened. We are faced with an extremely difficult situation. I understand that endemic corruption cannot be disposed of quickly: you cannot flick a switch to change things or turn the tap off, it will take time. What do we do with that time?
Suggestions have been made that Zimbabwe might be welcomed back into the Commonwealth. Under no circumstances should we welcome Zimbabwe back unless there is proper change. There is a short time between now and the election. We do not know what will happen, but we in this country must hold our nerve, not fall for the blandishments that things have changed. We have got rid of Mugabe and put in his place the crocodile. I would prefer neither of them, so I hope that the Government will take this seriously so that we can debate it further, with greater clarity, in future.
My Lords, perhaps it is because we are originally from near each other in the Highlands that I share the pessimism of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I fear that we are guilty of wishful thinking on Zimbabwe. There has been no regime change; evil still prevails. I had hoped that Mugabe would have died 20 years ago and been given a warm welcome in that special place in hell reserved for genocidal monsters. That might have spared Zimbabweans some of the years of starvation and cruelty which they have suffered, but only if all of his vile regime was brought down with him. But dying 20 years ago would not have saved the 20,000 people of the Matabele who were hacked to death, burnt alive or thrown down the wells by him and the commanders of the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade. That genocide happened within two years of Mugabe taking power.
Mugabe ordered the genocide, but who masterminded it? Why, none other than Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new President. All the senior army officers are desperate to keep the land, property and goods that they have looted. That is why they have moved against Mugabe, not because they want a new democracy.
Let us have no rose-tinted spectacles about Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth or lifting sanctions in the near future. Indeed, I think we need hundreds more sanctions against all the leaders of this vile regime in Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa and all his ZANU-PF cronies are equally evil as the Mugabe family. There must be no concessions to Zimbabwe at the moment, but a redoubling of our efforts to bring them down and get them before the International Criminal Court charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. Mladic and Milosevic killed 7,000 in Bosnia. They were evil. They went before the criminal court. Mugabe and his cronies killed 20,000 Matabele.
It is only then that Zimbabwe can emerge from the darkness of mass murder, looting and starvation into a new world of hope.
My Lords, it would be an unmitigated disaster if the transition of leadership did not deliver positively for the kindly, long-suffering peoples of Zimbabwe. We must all harness our best endeavours to draw attention to the short, medium and long-term needs of that country and then assist in any practical way possible. The re-establishing of the agricultural and tourism sectors would be a natural first step to create immediate economic order.
Urgently needed is more investment in farming, as well as imaginative ways to bring in expertise and capital to make the new generation of smallholder farms more productive. I envisage joint ventures or other forms of co-operation agreements, with emphasis on local content. For example, a German farm company is working on outgrowth schemes. It supplies seeds and fertilisers, invests in irrigation and some processing and then takes its fees out of export earnings. The key is to guarantee a minimum price but share in the proceeds. This model works well in Colombia, which endures similar challenges.
There is likely to be a land audit next year. Consolidation of the title deed system would offer new farmers collateral to raise finance. This would require co-operation from displaced commercial farmers who have issued claims against new owners. The tobacco market has shrunk, so commercial farmers have to find new cash crops. Food supplies to the region would be a good target, with emphasis on processing and added-value industries. Then there is the revitalising of the tourist and mining industries, possibly the assistance of immediate aid and longer-term assistance for capital development and professional aid. However, addressing essential human rights and electoral improvements should proceed in tandem. Let that be a prime focus of Governments and NGOs. The Ghanaian and Namibian Presidents’ remarks are to be welcomed, but Zimbabwe’s future progress requires more than warm words. These patient peoples must be supported to guard against any further slippage on their path and destiny to a future of truly representative democracy, for which the military’s role should be recognised.
My Lords, I have friends in Zimbabwe who are still farming. They have a legal right to farm—that has been confirmed by the courts and by letter from the Government—and they have struggled under immense difficulties. Over the past months, they have been intimidated physically and verbally. Their access road to the farm has been shut off; they have had squatters on their land; their trees have been cut down and their cattle have been stolen—they have to lock every animal up at night. Their dogs are regularly stoned. There is chanting at the gates outside the house. But then there was a ray of sunshine. I got a text this week from my friends, who said that there were not enough hallelujahs in the “Hallelujah Chorus”. The squatters have gone; they have been moved on. There are no pigs or goats, or people cutting down their trees. My friend has started planting again. The army moved in. Everything that he asked the police or courts to do, they did not do; he was left out. But now, with the change of regime, the army seem to be bringing back some measure of the rule of law. It is a small beacon of light in a very dark situation—but at least, for the first time in a debate on Zimbabwe, I am able to tell you that there is a ray of light.
My Lords, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has appointed a new 22-member Cabinet but, sadly, it is full of old ZANU-PF faces. Zimbabwe’s army chief, Constantino Chiwenga, having orchestrated the military takeover last month, is expected to be elevated to the vice-presidency. Mnangagwa has been criticised for the controversial appointment of Perence Shiri as Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs, despite his notoriety for having led a military operation against opponents of Robert Mugabe in the early 1980s. There are no opposition figures or prominent technocrats from outside government, despite huge public expectation that the Cabinet will have new blood, skills, and competences to spearhead Zimbabwe’s reform agenda and economic recovery.
The opposition leader, Tendai Biti, said that until the appointments were made, Zimbabweans had given the power grab the benefit of the doubt. “We did so”, he said,
“in the genuine, perhaps naive, view that the country could actually move forward. We craved for change, peace and stability in our country. How wrong we were”.
There is no greater hope for change than among the Marange villagers. They are deeply concerned that the wealth realised from the diamond fields by the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company did not benefit the villages in any way. Thousands of villagers have signed petitions, protesting at violence against the women of Marange, the senseless killing of civilians, and shocking levels of cruelty perpetrated by security personnel. They are calling for President Mnangagwa to set up an investigation into the human rights abuses. That would be a start.
Many observers believe that events in Zimbabwe will be a warning to other long-serving leaders that they should not assume that they can act as de facto monarchies, handing over power to their families as death approaches. Officials there dryly commented:
“Leadership is not sexually transmitted”,
when Mugabe’s plan to hand over power to Grace spectacularly nosedived. With 13 long-standing African rulers now aged between 65 and 84, there will be more transitions taking place, one way or another. We can only hope that Zimbabwe will lead the way through democracy and the rule of law.
My Lords, after Mugabe’s brutal 37 years in office, there is only one rightful way for Zimbabwe to achieve a legitimate Government, and that is through free and fair elections. Rory Stewart, the Minister for Africa, visited Harare shortly after Mugabe’s departure and met the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Opposition and civil society. What response did he get to his call for a full programme of political and economic reform, with human rights and rule of law being prioritised? Ten days ago, the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met EU and African Union leaders, after which he said that he was encouraged by the new president’s words on reforming the economy. However, last week Mnangagwa announced a fresh Cabinet, with key roles given to veterans of the ruling ZANU-PF party and senior soldiers, and no posts for the Opposition. Clearly, that did not meet his promise to reach out to all patriotic Zimbabweans.
Just hours before the Cabinet announcement, Boris Johnson said the UK could take steps to stabilise Zimbabwe’s currency system and extend a loan to help it clear the World Bank and African Development Bank debts, but he said that such support depended on “democratic progress”. What is the Minister’s assessment of the new Cabinet, and how does she think it will affect the hopes for democratic, economic and human rights reform?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords and the noble Lord Luce for tabling this debate, and for the insightful contributions. They have emanated from authoritative sources, and have greatly helped the quality of the debate. Recent weeks have been momentous for Zimbabwe, and I take this opportunity to set out what the UK Government think that that could mean for the future of the country and how we are working with our partners to encourage this to be a moment for reform and recovery.
President Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years. To put that in context, we have seen six British Prime Ministers in that time. President Mugabe’s rule was characterised by economic mismanagement and political oppression. Almost two-thirds of Zimbabweans are now living below the poverty line, existing each day on less than the cost of the cup of coffee many of us will have bought today. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, eloquently raised those matters. Mugabe’s resignation on 21 November, prompted by action from the Zimbabwean military, is a huge moment for the country. The world has seen on television screens and newspaper front pages what it means to the people, with jubilation on the streets of Harare and across the country. This moment offers an opportunity for Zimbabwe to forge a new path, free from misrule. The key question now is whether this moment will be seized. Will we see Zimbabwe put back on to a positive track?
The United Kingdom has always been committed to the people of Zimbabwe. We want the new president’s approach to be guided by the interests of all Zimbabweans, and we are working to encourage that. We have a clear message: the international community stands ready to support Zimbabwe, but this will happen only if we see a break from the past and genuine political and economic reform. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, rightly identified that imperative. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the recent visit of my right honourable friend the Minister for Africa, Rory Stewart, who visited Harare on 23 to 24 November, the first United Kingdom Minister to visit Zimbabwe in almost two decades and the first Minister from a Foreign Government to meet newly inaugurated President Mnangagwa. Let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that the Minister was clear with the president that the only way for Zimbabwe to have a legitimate Government was through free and fair elections. On his visit, the Minister also met opposition leaders, human rights activists and civil rights groups to hear their vision for their country.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, was interested in the United Kingdom’s impression of the new President. Well, if the new leadership demonstrates a commitment to political and economic reform then the United Kingdom stands ready to do all we can to support Zimbabwe’s recovery. We need to see free, fair and democratic elections, and we welcome President Mnangagwa’s commitment to holding them next year.
The visions that the opposition leaders, human rights activists and civil rights groups set out to the Minister were full of hope. They were optimistic that this moment offered a chance for a better future for all Zimbabweans, not just an elite group. They were clear that the constitution was central to this vision and that elections would be the first test of the intentions of the new Government. Under the constitution, elections will be held in the summer of next year. The next few months are critical for ensuring that those elections are a credible democratic process. Zimbabweans must be allowed to participate without fear of violence or reprisal, they must be able to challenge those in power and they must go to the polling station with the knowledge that, for the first time in decades, their voice, and therefore their vote, counts.
The transformation required in how elections are conducted can come only from within Zimbabwe, but there is an important role for the international community to help the country choose the right path. That is why we have been working with the region and our partners in the EU to ensure that we are consistent in our messaging to President Mnangagwa and his Government about what we believe should be their priorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, posed the question about what Her Majesty’s Government think are the key decisions that Zimbabwe needs to take. They are: free and fair elections; economic reforms and a renewed openness to foreign trade and investment in order to boost the living standards of all Zimbabweans; and a genuine commitment to upholding human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, raised that issue and I think we all understand exactly what he was referring to. This needs more than warm words; it has to be demonstrated by a tangible illustration of it actually happening.
My noble friend Lady Anelay, in connection with the broad issue of human rights, raised the very important matters of gender-based violence and the question of women’s empowerment. She argues that we can do more to use our Engaging Africa policy to assist that objective. I was extremely interested in her observations and I will certainly bring that to the attention of my colleagues—perhaps I could have a meeting with her to explore the potential of that approach. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, also raised this issue.
We have also been working with the international community to consider what we can do to incentivise and support these reforms. If we see positive action from the Zimbabwean Government, the UK stands ready to assist. The Foreign Secretary had useful discussions on this with regional leaders at the EU-AU summit last week and with the Zimbabwean delegation.
We have been encouraged by President Mnangagwa’s words during his inauguration speech when he promised to reform the economy and give investors the security of title that they need if Zimbabwe is to fulfil its potential and create the jobs that are so sorely needed. He made a solemn pledge to,
“serve … everyone who … considers Zimbabwe their home”,
and to hold free and fair elections. For as long as the President acts on his words, then Britain is willing to work alongside him and offer all the support that we can.
In the remaining time, let me deal with some of the specific contributions that arose. In relation to whether Zimbabwe will be invited to rejoin the Commonwealth, which was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Luce and Lord Hughes, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra, it would have to first indicate to the Commonwealth Secretariat that it would like to return. The final decision is for all Commonwealth members, not the UK alone. The UK would be willing to support re-entry, provided Zimbabwe meets the admission requirements, including demonstrating commitment to free and fair elections. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra spoke about what needs to be demonstrated—well, my noble friend mentioned pessimism but I will be more charitable and say realism. I hope this reassures both noble Lords that there is no free pass here; there are steps that must be observed.
On the matter of general UK support, which was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Swansea and Lord Loomba, DfID, on the part of the UK Government, has programmes promoting democratic and economic governance in Zimbabwe. We stand ready to support any new Administration who seek to improve human rights, transparency and domestic accountability.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark made a powerful contribution. He said that the United Kingdom is Zimbabwe’s oldest friend and talked about vigilance and the role of the churches. I was very struck with the words that he quoted from his colleague the Bishop of Matabeleland; there was a great deal of wisdom in these words and I am sure that they will have been noted across the Chamber and in Hansard for others to read.
My noble friend Lord Goodlad raised the important issue of former Crown servants and their pensions—those people who gave stalwart service to the country of Zimbabwe. I know that my right honourable friend Rory Stewart is aware of this issue. I say to my noble friend Lord Goodlad that I think it is important it is on the radar and I know that it will be looked at closely.
My noble friend Lord Hayward raised the issue of the economic situation in Zimbabwe. There is no doubt that Zimbabwe faces its most serious economic crisis since 2008 because of the simultaneous cash, liquidity and fiscal crisis, difficulties in getting hard currency, the declining value of local bond notes, which has resulted in fuel shortage and widespread panic-buying of essential goods. I was struck by the wise words of my noble friend that we should offer assistance and not impose. That reflects entirely what the United Kingdom Government feel.
I also listened with interest to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the suggestions that he made on the economy. These sounded very constructive and will certainly be of interest.
My noble friend Lord Caithness made what I thought was perhaps the most optimistic contribution in the debate. Initially I thought he was perhaps coming from the stable of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra. Then my spirits lifted because it was very clear from that contribution that there is hope, and the transformation in the lives of the friends to whom he referred was quite remarkable. We all hope that may be the harbinger of things to come.
In conclusion, the events of the last few weeks have been momentous, not just for Zimbabwe but for Africa. The country has an opportunity to set itself on a new path, free from oppression and economic hardship. Zimbabwe is currently financially crippled, but it is a country full of natural riches and, most importantly, highly capable people, full of hope and in themselves, as far as I can gather, determined and committed to the future of their country. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, encapsulated that very powerfully. The UK has long supported the people of Zimbabwe and we stand ready to help them make this hope a reality.
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will she follow up the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Goodlad with regard to the pensions of those in the former Zimbabwe Civil Service? I gave certain undertakings from that Dispatch Box on this matter back in 1980. Are they being honoured?
I can only offer to do what I indicated to my noble friend Lord Goodlad I would do; my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are aware of this issue, as is the Minister for Africa, Rory Stewart. I will make sure that the noble Lord’s concerns are reiterated.